It seemed like the perfect job. Come in late and leave early.
It is another tough day at the office, and the gang at Palmetto Public Works is rockin'. Golf clubs are packed in city trucks, tee times have been reserved and brews are chilling. Life is good.
What better way to spend a work day than by hitting the links while enjoying the spoils from contractors doing business with the city?
Golfing, fishing, gambling and partying appeared to be the norms of the department, according to sworn testimony given in connection with and investigation of the practices of Palmetto city government.
|View all Palmetto's City policies:
Download the City of Palmetto Personnel Policy Manual. PDF format, approximately 590 KB
Palmetto Mayor Larry Bustle allegedly allowed violations of city policies that were casually dismissed, including tardiness (violation of the personnel manual: 8.01A), drug use (violation: 4.06A1), gambling (violation: 4.05M), conflicts of interest (violation: 4.01E), harassment (violation: 4.07A), drinking (violation: 4.06E), and profanity (violation: 4.05I).
In sworn testimony, Public Works employee George Fountain confirmed an alligation that supervisors did play golf on city time. "Some of the supervisors, directors as they're called, would either come in, or not come in, and if they did come in then they would plan their golf day, they would roughly leave at 10, they would try to be back by 2:30 - 3 o'clock. Sometimes they didn't even come in to work," Fountain testified.
Investigator: Do you know anything about, uh, any of the city employees golfing during the work day?
Robert Baublitz, a Solid Waste Contract Coordinator for the city of Palmetto and a four-year city employee, also recalls sponsored golf outings allegedly paid for by Waste Management, Westra Construction and various architectural firms. Supervisors would go to Terra Ceia Country Club and be gone all day on a workday.
Several officials interviewed for this story spoke anonymously so they could discuss matters that occurred inside the Palmetto Public Works Department.
An employee recalls an incident one afternoon when Bustle walked into the Public Works building asking for Lukowiak. A draftsman looked up and answered, "Lukowiak, he's out playing golf."
What was Bustle's alleged response to an employee playing golf on city time? "Oh, OK," Bustle is said to have replied.
August 2008 email showing a complaint regarding building without a permit.
Duane Kinn, the deputy director of the Palmetto Public Works Department, in sworn testimony said Lukowiak also bragged to employees about remodeling his home without getting the necessary permits.
"He has some company out of New York working in the house." Kinn testified. "They done some air condition work, roofing jobs, uh, remodeled the inside, added a bathroom or something like that. [...] He kind of made a mention to a lot of people that he didn't pull any permits."
Click to play the sworn testimony:
Kinn has worked for the city of Palmetto for 34 years, and in his sworn testimony he told how Lukowiak was the only city employee who would smoke inside the city's building (violation: Florida Statutes, Section 386.201).
"Chris would smoke, then throw the cigarette on the carpet and then put it out with his foot," Kinn testified.
Click to play the sworn testimony:
A 19-year city employee, Fountain further stated under oath that incidents of racism and drunkenness that went unpunished took place.
"They had the Christmas party at public works approximately two years ago. Um, a supervisor, uh, named Scott Martin was at a party that was held on public property at the city of Palmetto. He was inebriated." Fountain testified. "It was kind of a very bad situation because he used the, excuse me, the word "n----r" to, um, a couple of the men in the back and a lot of the men were very very upset with that. Of course I work with a lot of, uh, very good, um, black men and women, uh, and they were very offended by that."
"Mr. Lukowiak came in inebriated one day to work. "
Investigator: The other, uh, issue that I want to explore a little bit here is the use of alcohol during the working day. Are you aware of any of that happening at all? People with alcohol on their breath. People coming in drunk. Uh, things like that.
Fountain: Uh, there was an incident when, um, they had the Christmas party at public works approximately two years ago. Um, a supervisor, uh, named Scott Martin was at a party that was held on public property at the city of Palmetto. He was inebriated. And, um, it was kind of a very bad situation because he used the, excuse me, the word "n----r" to, um, a couple of the men in the back and a lot of the men were very very upset with that. Of course I work with a lot of, uh, very good, um, black men and women, uh, and they were very offended by that. And also, um, I believe that, Mr. Lukowiak came in inebriated one day to work.
Investigator: OK. And so Lukowiak came in, can you tell me about that? Did you have contact with him, or?
Fountain: No sir, I was, uh, just in the hallway from brief passing. Um.
Fountain: Yeah, uh, I know that, uh, he had definitely been, uh, drinking that day. Um, and he had went in to the, uh, conference room, and after that I was back in my office and then I didn't see him any more of him that day, but yeah, he was.
Investigator: All right.
The charmed circle
Chaos and favoritism seemed to reign supreme inside Public Works. How to become a member of the charmed circle? If you went along, you got along. Promotions were alleged to be bestowed upon loyal Lukowiak supporters, while dissidents were reprimanded or laid off.
One high-ranking supervisor was demoted and put on a year's probation for refusing to keep quiet about the construction of a massive residential development that was not approved by officials (violation of city ordinance No. 508 26-14).
Lukowiak accused the engineer of "insubordination" and no amount of appeals to Bustle reversed the penalty.
It's remarkable how hard most of the employees worked, while a few played.
"I can name 30 other employees that are there from 7 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon." Fountain testified. "We're the ones who ran Public Works. We're the ones who did the job. Those are the people are the winners here."
Fountain defended the majority of the department's employees. "They're the ones who made the city of Palmetto in the last 3 and a half years what the city of Palmetto is today. We're the ones who stayed back. We're the ones who took the customer complaints." he said. "These guys were out golfing, having fun, getting wined and dined by all these other companies that were coming in trying to get their business with big bucks flowing in."
Fountain: I can name 30 other employees that are there from 7 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon. We're the ones who ran public works. We're the ones who did the job. Those are the people are the winners here. They're the ones who made the city of Palmetto in the last 3 and a half years what the city of Palmetto is today. We're the ones who stayed back. We're the ones who took the customer complaints. We're the ones who went out and did the water breaks while these guys were out golfing, having fun, getting wined and dined by all these other companies that were coming in trying to get their business with big bucks flowing in. God knows where it went. If you ever find out, please tell me.
James Rowland, recently laid off from the Palmetto Building Department, was candid when he spoke of the acts through the Bustle administration.
In sworn testimony, Rowland told how he was ordered by his superior to move furniture in a city truck on city time.
"I personally have, uh, in the building department when I was there, I helped my deputy director move three times. Under duress mind you, under duress, meaning I was told to do it," Rowland said. "It was very awkward for me. He was my boss. So I was under a lot of duress at that time and I still am, you know. A lot of times when I think about some of the things that went on it just wasn't right. And, um, anyway the duress was just. it just wasn't right."
Rowland: It was very awkward for me. He was my boss. So I was under a lot of duress at that time and I still am, you know. A lot of times when I think about some of the things that went on it just wasn't right. And, um, anyway the duress was just... it just wasn't right.
Rowland: Yeah, I mean what do you do? You know, when your supervisor tells you to do something, you do it. And then you go to your next supervisor which is the building official and he's the one that ok'd it and said go ahead and do it."
Duane Kinn also confirmed the rumors that city employees were seen doing personal yard work for Palmetto City Commissioner Mary Lancaster. "They was supposed help her out by digging a ditch on the west side of Mary's house," Kinn said in sworn testimony. "I do believe it was taken care of."
Gambling with Palmetto's future. Why would a 34-year employee continue to threaten his pension and the city reputation by allegedly gambling on city property?
When asked about who makes all the money with the types of gambling operations going on inside the Public Works Department, Fountain testified, "From what I understand it was being passed down to two individuals, uh, Scott Martin and Duane Kinn."
Robert Baublitz, the city employee in charge of liaison with Waste Management, confirms this allegation in his March 2009 sworn testimony. "Duane Kinn, um, he handles the monies and he keeps a chart. He has a list of ten people that are in. Uh, I was in it. I am no longer in it," he testified. "They told me that policy would be followed to the letter. I read the policy, it said no gambling or betting on city time or on city property. So I went to HR, Sharon Jones. I told her. She said absolutely get out. I did and it's still going on to this day."
Click to play the sworn testimony:
The workers speak out
The silent heroes in this story are the named and unnamed of many of the 50 Public Works employees who came forth either in sworn testimony or interviews, risking their careers to right what they thought was wrong.
Rowland said he gave his sworn testimony because he had nothing to gain and nothing to lose and that he had a moral obligation to tell what was going on.
Coming Monday: Sexual Harassment: Women in the Conflict Zone
"Two ladies have submitted sexual harassment, racism and intimidation letter to HR director and it has been swept under the rug. The ladies have been under the supervision of the offender, Frank Woodard." -- Excerpt from the May 2007 open letter from employees of the public works department to former Palmetto Mayor Larry Bustle.
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